Be Aware: Read an Adoptee Story

It’s National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). Traditionally, this month is promoted by states, communities, public and private organizations, businesses, families, and individuals by celebrating adoption as a positive way to build families. Celebrations include activities and observances across the nation, public awareness and recruitment campaigns, and special events to promote the false narrative of the fairy tale of adoption.

I understand that there are orphans and foster kids out there with complicated or troubled families of origin that need permanent homes. I know that adoption has a place in our society. It’s just that it needs to be taken out of the spotlight as a fairy tale solution for the childless. In addition, by celebrating the fairy tale of adoption and ignoring its complexities, we continue to drive a billion-dollar, for-profit adoption industry. This is an industry that exploits the desires of childless couples or other people that have an “itch” to raise or “save” a child. This is an industry that also exploits pregnant, confused young women.

The unavoidable truth and the crux of adoption complexity is that it necessitates the undoing of one family so that another one can come into being or add to its brood. The singular most important fact about adoption is that it causes trauma, loss, and grief for both the biological mother (and often for others in the original family) and the adoptee. And most importantly, the fairy tale narrative of adoption denies adoptees the acknowledgement and support necessary to process their experiences across a lifetime. Because being adopted is a journey that lasts a lifetime.

I have a friend who adopted a toddler from a Russian orphanage (before the 2013 ban by Russia of the country’s children by U.S. families). He’s now a teenager. She’s a fabulous mom and her son is a smart, socially well-adjusted kid. We were talking and the subject of adoption came up (I was probably updating her on my crazy adoption journey). I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I used the word “adopted” to describe her son. She corrected me. She said, “He was adopted.” She emphasized the past tense and went on to explain that she didn’t use that word to describe her son. He’s simply “her son.” I get that. And I certainly didn’t mean to offend her. But the words “adopted” and “adoptee” aren’t bad words. At least they shouldn’t be. I felt the need to gently explain to my friend that her son is adopted and will always be an adoptee. He certainly doesn’t need to wear it as a badge of honor, but the fact that he is adopted and there is another family out there that he belongs to just as he belongs to her family, needs to be acknowledged. He may have feelings and emotions about it that he wants to talk about. He may have questions about his heritage and ethnicity. She should acknowledge that it is and will always be a part of his identity.

I cannot begin to describe all of the complexities of being adopted. It is a complex journey and different for every adoptee. Depending on the adoptee, it may involve searching for biological family. It may involve reunion. It may not. It may involve sadness, loneliness and depression. I hope not, but statistics do indicate that adoptees far outnumber non-adopted youth in all types of psychiatric treatment facilities. Some adoptees may feel like they have, in fact, lived a fairy tale life with their adopters. That’s great, too, but I hope there is some support out there for every adoptee when and if it is needed.

In the end, we all need to realize that at the center of every adoption is the adoptee. And I’m all about adoptee stories. I want to hear them all. I’ve read many of the adoptee memoirs out there (and still reading!). Take some time to read an adoptee story. Take some time to understand the heart of an adoptee. Celebrate National Adoption Awareness this way.

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Toot, Toot!

I’ve never been very good at tooting my own horn. I’ve always shrugged off compliments, whether it be about what I’m wearing, my hair, my cooking, or my writing. At my age (50-something!), you’d think I’d be more comfortable with compliments from others and more confident and about my own successes. I’m learning. And I’m starting to feel the power of my words. It’s cool and empowering.

Book signingMy book is doing pretty well. I’m limping along (there I go again), trying to figure out how to “market” it without the backing and support of an agent and a big (or even small) publishing house. Self-publishing is definitely not for sissies.

I even took the bold step of making a book trailer. That was fun (and intimidating!)  Watch Now! THE LIES THAT BIND Book Trailer.

I also had a local book signing with a great turnout (mostly friends and family–thank you to all who came!). And I’ve been pimping the book as much as I can on social media–I’m pretty sure my friends and family are getting a little tired of hearing about the book.

Targeting the marketing is tricky. Obviously, adoptees and members of the adoption triad are my main audience, but I really believe so many more would embrace, enjoy, and even benefit from the story. Let’s face it: the subject of adoption and the real stories behind who adopts are inherently connected to people dealing with complex and sensitive personal family issues like infertility, surrogacy, illegitimacy, mixed race families, and families with same-sex parents. Adoption, like the family issues mentioned above, often contributes to a distinctive and often challenging form of family. The Lies That Bind is a relevant and inspiring read for individuals dealing with many of the complicated and emotional family issues that we face today.

The feedback I have received so far is telling me that my story is resonating with the world. I’ve got some great 5-star reviews and I’m thankful for that, but even more touching than the reviews have been the personal notes I’ve received from readers.

Just a few weeks ago, I received a new friend request on Facebook from a total stranger living in another state. I accepted her request and then, just minutes later, I received a private message from her. It brought me to tears:

facebook message

Then, just a few days ago, I received a hand-written note from another woman. Again, I’d never met her. She told me that she was raised by her biological parents, but they had also adopted a son before she was born. She explained that, even as a child, she always knew and felt that her brother was “just different” and it was clear that he felt like an outsider, as well, even though he had a stable, loving, adoptive family. This lovely woman told me that after reading my book, she was able to “understand a little more how he must have felt.” She also shared that “he died last year never having any knowledge of his birth family.” He never searched because he thought it would be “disloyal” to his adoptive parents and family. She closed with, “How I wish he could have found the connection you found with Jonathan!” Again, tears.

I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has read the THE LIES THAT BIND. I hope it’s inspiring those who are questioning whether they should find their truth. I also hope it’s spreading enlightenment about the heart and soul of an adoptee.

If you’ve read THE LIES THAT BIND, please review it on Amazon! And if you haven’t yet read it, please do! You can buy it here (paperback or ebook or read for free if you have Kindle Unlimited).

And if you feel so compelled, please spread the word! Thank you. And, TOOT TOOT!

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Available at Amazon.

THE LIES THAT BIND: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Rejection, Redirection, DNA & Discovery

The book is finally done. Right now it’s the #1 new release in Non-fiction/Family & Parenting/Adoption!

I can’t wait for you to read it. Launching February 5–e-book and paperback on Amazon.  E-book pre-orders available now for just 99 cents!

The Lies That Bind

A memoir, by Laureen Pittman

Reveal 4

Hey Bro . . .

Me and TomSo, after many years of denial, my a-brother has shown an interest in his bio-fam. His DNA failed. Twice. It’s really weird  . . . and rare. He submitted his saliva sample to 23andMe. But it was a failure. Jeezus. My poor brother. We tease him that it means he’s got alien DNA in him. Weirdo. I like this analysis. He doesn’t.

This was the explanation: “If necessary, the lab will make multiple attempts at all stages of the process in order to provide results; however, due to biological variability some people simply don’t have a high enough concentration of DNA in their saliva for our technology to process.”worlds_okayest_brother_t_shirt_textual_tees

So . . . he’s considering submitting his  saliva to Ancestry DNA. In the meanwhile, I decided to help him try to find his bio fam. He knew his bio mom’s last name: Traxler. Thanks to the California Birth Index, we were able to confirm the name Traxler and find his bio father’s name: Noble.

After some research, I think I found his bio mom. it’s not my story to share, and we’re not sure we’ve struck gold at this point. We believe his bio mom may have passed several years ago, but we were able to find several potential half-siblings. I drafted a letter to them. Here it is. Comments are encouraged and welcomed!

Dear __________________,

My name is Laureen Pittman (Laureen Hubachek). You don’t know me, nor do you have any reason to know me, but I have a story that may interest you and I hope that you will continue to read.

I am an adoptee. I was born in December 1963 and raised by two wonderful adoptive parents. I also had (and still have!) an adoptive sibling. Thomas Allen Hubachek (I call him Tommy, or Tom) is two years older than me, born November 19, 1961. He was born in Los Angeles County. His biological mother’s last name is Traxler. His biological father’s last name is Noble. He’s an amazing man—a good brother, husband, and father of 7 children—all now grown and successful. He has 7 grandchildren.

Tom is a mature, well-adjusted man, but he still has questions about his identity and his origins. It took Tom a long time to decide whether or not he should make an attempt at discovering his roots. When he decided to search, I offered to help him. I have helped several other adoptees find their biological family—most with good results and happy endings. I do understand, however, that not all findings result in “happy endings” and that even mistakes can be made in the process of search and discovery. I hope that you can assist Tom in finding the truth.

We have reason to believe that your mother, ________________ Traxler (born in San Diego and attended high school at West Covina High School) is Tom’s biological mother.

We provide this information in an attempt to reach out and make contact with family. Tom only hopes that, if the relationship can be confirmed, information can be shared, and perhaps relationships can be built. It is quite a conundrum being an adoptee—coming from two families: having one biology, but two familial connections. It results in an infinite wondering of how nature and nurture really work.

I understand that this may be a lot to take in and it may be quite a surprise—I have no idea what your mother may have told you about her past. But please understand that we would not be presenting this information to total strangers without a good amount of research that points to your family as relatives of Thomas Hubachek.

I hope that you feel compelled to contact me to discuss your thoughts. If we can confirm that Tom is the son of ________, we would be happy to take the contact as far or as limited as you desire. Tom would love to have some information about the family. He would enjoy building sibling relationships, as well, but he understands that the family must make this decision.

Please take some time to think about this and feel free to call or email me. You can also find me on Facebook and you can message me there, if you prefer.

Yours in love and understanding,

Laureen Pittman
laureenwrites@gmail.com

Adoptee and Adoption Stories Matter

story

I heard this morning that the movie Lion was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama. That made me happy. It’s based on the memoir written by Saroo Brierley (A Long Way Home, G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Reprint edition (June 12, 2014)), an Indian-born Australian businessman who was separated from his family as a small boy and adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years (and one incredible journey) later, he reunites with his biological mother. Dev Patel plays Saroo (he’s nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, as well) and Nicole Kidman plays Saroo’s adoptive mom. You can watch the trailer here. It’s pretty powerful.

I love to hear other people’s stories. I especially like to hear stories from other adoptees. Every story–every journey–is different, yet similar in many ways. The same threads are woven into nearly every adoptee story: feelings of rejection, wanting to belong, the questioning of one’s identity, and questioning the very stories that have been told to us by those who lovingly (hopefully) raise us. We also often wonder whether anyone is thinking about or looking for us.stone-symbol-question-mark-5282223

Adoptees and their stories seem to be coming out of the woodwork. The subject of adoption–once a subject shrouded in secrecy–is becoming a big part of the public interest. Adoptees are actively searching for answers to the most basic questions we all take for granted: Who am I? Where did I come from? Who do I look like?

Birth parents are searching, too. Shame is no longer an issue. It’s all about healing. You can even see the healing on television (shows like Who Do You Think You Are?, Long Lost Family, and Geneaology Roadshow), in books, and on the big screen (Lion, Philomena). Genealogy has become its own genre. It’s clear that the interest in family history is not just a phase.

Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against most adoptees and others who want to know their stories. Thirty out of our fifty states still have sealed records laws on the books that deny adult adoptees the right to know their origins. California is one of those states living in the past. Seems so archaic, really, with all of the other ways to get to the truth: from good ol’ gumshoe detective work to social media, registries, even DNA testing and forensic genealogy. And what about international adoptions? Getting to the truth in those stories can be even more complicated. In the story behind the movie Lion, the main character uses Google Earth to search for his childhood neighborhood, using  his fuzzy childhood memories as his only guide. Google Earth! Amazing! Technology is so powerful!

storiesStories are powerful, too. Stories communicate, connect and strengthen. Even in everyday conversation, when people tell others about themselves, they to do it in a narrative way—that’s just how humans communicate. People story their worlds. And it’s not just about the adoptees. The subject of adoption and the real stories behind who adopts are inherently connected to people dealing with complex and sensitive personal issues like infertility, surrogacy, illegitimacy, mixed race families, and families with same-sex parents. Adoption, like the family issues mentioned above, contributes to a distinctive and often challenging form of family. These stories are for everyone.

My memoir about my adoption journey, titled The Lies That Bind, is nearly complete. It will be published in 2017.

The CABI: Another Piece of the Puzzle

“Lies require commitment.”
― Veronica Roth, Divergent

Unfortunately, this post may only be of interest to adoptees born in California.  Read on!

I had always assumed that my birth mother left blank the space on my original birth certificate (OBC), or filled it in “unknown.”  Of course, I do not have access to my OBC. In order for me to get access, I must file a petition with the Superior Court of California showing “good and compelling cause” to have the records unsealed.  I’ve thought about doing adopteeit.  I’ve drafted a petition.  I’ve never filed it.

I am one of the “lucky” ones.  My puzzle was solved through DNA. Frankly, I don’t need my OBC.  And if you were born in California, you may not need it, either. Of course, we should all be able to access our OBCs once we are adults–I’m not saying we’re not entitled.  Of course we are.  I’m just talking about different ways to piece together your puzzle.

Do you know about the California Birth Index?  I’m not talking about the record of your OBC, which is maintained by the California Department of Public Health–because you’re not entitled to that if you were adopted.  I’m talking about the California Birth Index (CABI), which is a completely separate database compiled by the California Office of Health Information and Research (which is described as a “program” established under the California Department of Public Health). The CABI does not contain the same information as a birth certificate. The CABI contains birth records of all registered births in California between 1905 and 1995. The information generally available through the CABI is: date of birth, full name, county of birth, gender, and the mother’s maiden name.

puzzleThis is where it gets interesting for California adoptees.  No, the skies aren’t going to open up with all the answers you’ve been looking for, but you may be able to find another piece to your puzzle.  Like your birth father’s last name.

Unmarried women will often have two listings for the original birth–the baby of an unwed mother is listed with the last name of each parent.  Both listings show date of birth, mother’s maiden name and county of birth. In the case of married couples or unmarried couples where the father identifies himself at the time of birth there will be only one original record–under the name of the father. And in cases where the mother refuses to identify the father (or she doesn’t know), there will also only be only one birth record–under the name of the mother. Surprisingly, the the California Office of Health Information and Research, through the CABI, has made every effort to provide as many options as possible for a child to use later on. Go figure.

I didn’t know about the CABI until fairly recently.  Had I known about it sooner, I would have known my birth father’s last name before I found him through the use of DNA.  I would not have had his first name, but it is possible that I could have tracked him down with the other clues I had–like where he grew up, his age, etc.  Another piece of the puzzle.

When I accessed the CABI a few weeks ago, here is what I found when I entered my information (I entered my DOB, birth mother’s surname, and county of birth):

CABI Michaels Summer

Two entries!  One that lists my last name as Michaels (b-mom’s surname) and one that lists my last name as Summer (b-dad’s surname).  This blew me away!  Apparently, Margaret knew the identity of my birth father all along! If she hadn’t known, or refused to divulge the information, my birth record under the CABI would have only shown a single record with the last name “Michaels.”  That’s what I expected to find . . . what a surprise! Hmmmmm.  All the more interesting that Jackson cannot remember Margaret, or the circumstances that brought them together to create me.

This is cool, too: if your birth mother named you before putting you up for adoption, it will be listed here, as well. If you were not given a first name and were just called “Baby Girl” or “Baby Boy” (like I was), the record will show a blank for the first and middle names (as above).

I also found it interesting that the CABI does not list the child again under the adopted name. You’re not born again when you are adopted, so that makes perfect sense to me. The CABI just doesn’t care about your sealed records, your adoption, or your silly “amended” birth certificate.  How refreshing, actually!

The CABI is available from several websites, including Ancestry.com, Family Tree Legends, Vital Search, and, of course, here: CaliforniaBirthIndex.org. I like to access the information through SFgenealogy.org–I find their search engine to be the most useful.

The Journey – A Musical

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I love this quote for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1: It’s about the music. It explains why I have a playlist for my life. Music speaks to me. My playlist isn’t written down somewhere–it’s subconscious; subliminal.

Reason 2: Deitrich Bonhoeffer is German. I’m German. It’s my heritage; one I didn’t know about (and wasn’t entitled to)  until I discovered my ancestry through DNA. Since learning about my biological father and German heritage, I became a little obsessed with learning about German Americans in WWII and all kinds of spy stories and sabotage operations mounted against targets inside America. Why have I become so obsessed with the dark underside of espionage in WWII? The story of my German ancestors is fascinating and still holds many mysteries waiting to be uncovered.  It’s a long story and I won’t connect all the dots for you here, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a musician, a theologist and  a member of the Abwehr (defense) section of the German Military Intelligence Corps, the organization that originally was charged with espionage missions in Europe and the US by Hitler and the Nazi party.  Eventually, however, under cover of the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer became a participant in the German Resistance movement against Hitler and Nazism. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr to assassinate Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in 1945, shortly before the war’s end. So I have a soft spot in my heart for this Bonhoeffer guy.

But I digress. Back to the music. After all, this post is about the music. Everyone knows that the right music can evoke deep emotional response. Think about what composers are able do with movie soundtracks. And that’s without lyrics!  Add some lyrics that might speak to time and place, intended or unintended, and it can leave you in a puddle. It happens to me sometimes.bellingham

Like the time I was traveling twelve hundred miles to Washington for the first time to meet my biological father. I was traveling solo. My husband and my boys were supportive of my personal journey and Guy did offer to go with me, but I knew that if he was with me, I would be distracted by constantly keeping tabs on how he was doing during the trip. I also thought it would be important to have this experience on my own so that I wouldn’t be tempted, either consciously or subconsciously, to gauge my emotions based on what I thought Guy was thinking, or to play up or down my emotions or reactions for any reason. I didn’t want to feel like I was measuring my reactions or being careful with my words. I wanted to experience everything authentically and honestly.

Once the plane was in the air, I put my earbuds in and turned on some music. My phone was loaded with all of my favorites—mostly U2. I’m a huge fan. Some of you already know that. The sounds of The Edge’s guitar and Adam’s baseline in tune with Bono’s emotive voice never fail to soothe me. Larry’s percussions punctuate each song perfectly. The lyrics of most U2 songs are nuanced with spirituality without being preachy, which is perfect for me, since I consider myself a spiritual person without subscribing to any particular line of religious reasoning. U2’s music is often drenched in emotion, while at the same time the sound is pure, raucous rock and roll. U2’s music has always been a sort of soundtrack for my life.

Invisible was the first song I listened to as the plane settled into cruising altitude.  It was a fairly new song at the time, but I knew the lyrics well. That day, however, while sitting on that airplane headed to a truly new world, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time.

It’s like the room just cleared of smoke
I didn’t even want the heart you broke
It’s yours to keep
You might just need one

Everything I had been told or taught to believe as a child about my adoption was that it was good, simple and straightforward. Be grateful. You were chosen. You are lucky.

I was grateful. My life as an adoptee most definitely didn’t suck, but what was missing was an acknowledgment that being adopted naturally comes with questions, emotions and even fears. Being adopted also comes with confines and rules that have been imposed not only by those individuals closest to me (like parents who never openly discussed adoption), as well as by the law and by strangers who can’t even begin to understand, despite their sincere efforts to make sense of the enigma of adoption on my behalf. The mantra has always been: Don’t question where you are, how you fit in, or where you came from. Just be the person “they” want you to be. You have no right to self-discovery.

But now it seemed that the adoption fog was finally lifting. And in that moment, on the plane, Bono was singing to me.

I finally found my real name
I won’t be me when you see me again
No, I won’t be my father’s son

Real names eventually translate into real history and truth. I found mine. And Jackson—we found his real name, too. Our lives are changed forever.

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
More than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible

Margaret, of course, would prefer that I remain invisible. For so long, her rejection of me defined me when it came to thinking about my adoption. It took me some time and soul searching to realize that my existence and the truth about it mattered, even if Margaret felt otherwise. I finally turned the rejection into a redirection. I can accept that Margaret will never know me.

I don’t dream, not as such,
I don’t even think about you that much
Unless I start to think at all
All those frozen days
And your frozen ways
They melt away your face like snow

The anger and the pain of the rejections are melting away. But it had to be realized first. If you would have asked me twenty years ago if I was angry about Margaret’s second rejection of me, I would have told you flat out, “no.”   But in reality, I was denying it. I pushed the anger and the confusion deep down. Now I am finally finding answers about who I really am. I can accept that I may never know my story in its entirety—that there may still be gaps and questions in the grand scheme of it all. It’s okay.

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
I’m more than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible
I am here

Thank you, Bono.

bono roxy

My son, Zach, actually took this photo at the Roxy in Hollywood earlier this year. We were there. Did I mention I’m a huge fan?

Of course, the song really isn’t about my journey–or anyone’s journey–through the adoption maze.  It’s really about how helping others is important.  It is about human dignity and the one human family. The lyrics persuade us to reflect on small movements toward justice, participation in something bigger than ourselves, and solidarity. Bono is a humanitarian of epic proportions.

But in that moment on the plane . . . Corny? Maybe. That’s okay.  I don’t mind being corny.

I’d like to end with another quote.  This one is from Aldous Huxley.  Those  of you that have been following my journey and my quest to get to know my biological father will understand why a quote from Aldous Huxley delights me.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
― Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays

 

Spit and Image

Four and a half months!  I apologize, but I’ve been in my own head since I met my biological father.  Thoughts and emotions have been swirling around in my noggin . . . just trying to make sense of it all.  It’s all so simple, but also complicated!  Mission accomplished . . . but it’s just the beginning of something new.

The trip up to meet Jackson could not have gone better.  We met, we hugged, we talked for hours.  We cooked together, had a drink or two, shared stories, pictures and laughter. And I met my half-sister, Megan, too.  Megan admitted that she was reluctant when I first contacted her.  I know she was being protective of her father.  But she said that when she finally realized I was actually coming, she started to get excited and was looking forward to meeting me.  We were able to spend some time together, as well, and talk about life over a glass of wine or two.

And what of physical similarities?  Even before I met Jackson, through photos, I could see similarities between Jackson and my son, Garrett.  But try as I may, I could not see any physical similarities between myself and Jackson.  It’s something adoptees are obsessed with.  Even when I met him, I didn’t have an “Aha!” moment.  He does have a full beard, so I couldn’t really see the details of his facial features. I gave up looking for the physical similarities.  That is, until I got home and analyzed some old photos.

Spit and Image!

Spit and Image!

Jackson believes he’s about 18 in this photo.  I’m 17.

Spitting image is the usual modern form of the idiom meaning exact likeness, duplicate, or counterpart. The original phrase, however, is spit and image, perhaps inspired by the Biblical God‘s use of spit and mud to create Adam in his image. There is no evidence that the origin of the phrase goes back to Biblical times, but its usage has been traced back to the 17th century in England. It was used to refer to someone who is so similar to another as to appear to have been spat out of his mouth. Of course, spitting image has been far more common than spit and image for over a century, but I prefer the phrase spit and image. After all, we found each other by spitting into test tubes.

Jackson and Garrett

Jackson and Garrett

Layers

First, I have news.  It’s FINALLY happening!  I’m finally going to meet a member of my biological family–my father!

I know my blog and the stories about my journey that I have been sharing with you have pretty much come to a halt.  I apologize for that, but a lot has been happening behind the scenes.  A great amount of it has been very personal and difficult for me to process emotionally; hence, I have not been able to share it here. But I am happy to report that I’ll be meeting Jackson soon.  I’ll also get to meet my half-sister and my niece. It’s a big triumph for me! I will share more about the emotional journey it took to get to this point very soon. For now I’ll tell you that I’m nervous, but Jackson has assured me that he has “open arms” and is looking forward to meeting me, as well.  I will not call it a “reunion,” though, because we never even knew about each other. He didn’t even know I existed, for Pete’s sake! This will simply be a meeting of common hearts and souls.

Sadly, there has been no new news on my bio mom’s side (as expected), although I am still in contact with my aunt (my bio mom’s half-sister) and she has expressed interest in meeting and sharing information with me in the past.  I need to take the initiative to contact her again–I know that I can’t let these opportunities drift by.  Life is too short.

Now about the layers!  Since I’ve been in contact with Jackson, together we have discovered so much about ourselves and our extended family! I recently wrote an article for Secret Sons and Daughters on the importance of sharing stories and contacting everyone and anyone that may have a connection (DNA or otherwise) in order to uncover long lost or forgotten details, secrets and even deception. If you keep sharing, you will eventually come up with something.  Sometimes it’s a big deal (I found my 70-year old father that didn’t even know I existed!) and sometimes it’s just a great little tidbit of history that adds color to your story.

Beach Blanket Bingo!

Beach Blanket Bingo!

For example, with the help of a second cousin (found through a DNA match on 23andMe), and the helpful hints and extensive document library on Ancestry.com, we discovered that Jackson had a nephew (they didn’t know about each other) who was a handsome up-and-coming folk-singer in the early 1960’s, who married a young beauty queen and Hollywood starlet who made appearances in all of the great “Beach Party” movies of the 1960’s (including Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach). Unfortunately, Jackson’s nephew (my first cousin!) was killed at age 26 in a tragic airplane crash off the beach in San Diego while he was flying a small plane with his friend (both experienced pilots).  The beautiful starlet never remarried, but went on to be a successful photographer who hobnobbed with the rock and roll crowd in the late 60’s and 70’s (she toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for a couple of years as their official photographer) and artist.

I think that’s pretty neato. What’s also neato is that I am still discovering new things about my family.  My friend, Nancy, who has been super supportive and helpful with my search and journey, gave me a copy of a small blurb from a magazine that she cut out.  She doesn’t remember where it came from [Nancy remembered: it came from Parade magazine, but we’re still not sure of the date], but it was in the form of a multiple choice question/statement:

When a team of psychologists measured children’s resilience, they found that the kids who were best able to handle stress:

a) knew the most about their family’s history;

b) played team sports;

c) attended regular religious services.

Answer: (a). The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem.  the reason: These children have a stronger sense of “intergenerational self”–they understand that they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience both highs and lows.

So keep learning.  And keep peeling away the layers.

Legalized Fraud?

My birth certificate bears the words: Certificate of Live Birth, under the two separate, official-looking headers:

State of California

Certification of Vital Records

and

State of California

Department of Public Health

california-sealIt also bears  “The Great Seal of the State of California,” on the left bottom corner, as well as a funky, more modern looking “CDPH” (California Department of Public Health) seal on the bottom right corner.  The paper itself is really official and fancy, too–pretty even–shades of red, white and blue–with a serious blue border with the somber words “Any Alteration or Erasure Voids this Certificate” on the bottom.  When you hold up the certificate to the light, you can see a watermark: “OFFICIAL VITAL RECORD.”logo_CDPH_v.1_color

A birth certificate.  Big deal.  Well, the one I have in my possession is a fraud.  Officially, it’s called an amended birth certificate. And there is actually a legitimate reason for it (although I have a problem with the form of it being the same as an original birth certificate).

Adoption files (usually held by the state department of health or social services and the courts) and original birth certificates of adoptees were sealed to all parties in most states starting in the early 1930’s (open adoption records were the norm prior to this time). Historically, there are a number of reasons cited for the sealing of the records. Basically, birth records were amended and sealed based on ideas of the shame of adoption, the stigma of illegitimacy, and the attempt to hide the adoptive family from the socially scorned birth mother.  I won’t go into the details here because there has been so much written on the subject of anonymity in adoptions and there are so many opinions out there.  If you want to read about it in more depth, you can go here: Bastard Nation; or here: California Open (related specifically to California adoptions); or just Google “sealed adoption records” and you’ll get all kinds of articles and all kinds of opinions on the subject.

I understand the need for privacy when a child is placed for adoption.  The adoptive family needs to bond with the child and eventually tell the story of their family (including the adoption) in their own way.  But the story needs to be told.  Families that don’t tell their adopted children that they were adopted really scare me.   But that’s another blog–not mine.  I always knew I was adopted.  It was a happy story.

Back to sealed records. There is just one argument on the side of sealed records that I don’t like.  It’s not just that I don’t agree with it–it’s that it’s just plain wrong.  And I want to be clear about it so it doesn’t clog up any argument you may want to have with me about sealed records and any so-called right to privacy.  Plain and simple: there is no right to privacy in adoption that extends to a birth parent.  Anonymity may have been promised and may have been desired by a birth parent, but there is nothing in any adoption law or even in the official relinquishment papers signed by the birth parent(s), that guarantees anonymity.  It’s a funny idea  to me–like wanting to be in the witness protection program. I just don’t get it.  You gave birth to a person. A thinking person. 

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said it quite simply when it upheld a Tennessee law granting adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates:

“A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event — the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth.

The judges of the Sixth Circuit Court also wrote: “if there is a federal constitutional right of familial privacy, it does not extend [to birth parents who have relinquished children to adoption]” and cited  a 1981 decision in which the appeals court found that

[T]he Constitution does not encompass a general right to nondisclosure of private information.

Interestingly, the Court went a little further and dealt with the emotion of it all and found that the interest of an adoptee to know who his or her birth parents are is

an interest entitled to a good deal of respect and sympathy.

[106 F.3d 703 (6th Cir. 1997)]

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to overrule the Appeals Court ruling in favor of open records.

Remember that I am talking about information and identity and the documentation that can provide this information.  I am not talking about relationships.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I gave up my idea of ever having any kind of relationship with my biological mother.  She refuses even to communicate in any meaningful way, so it’s a non-issue for me.  It has become an issue for others, though, namely Jackson, my biological father, who cannot remember anything about his apparently fleeting relationship with Margaret.  He’d like to communicate with her. But we cannot legislate communication, relationships, or emotions.  So there you have it.

My record of identity–my amended birth certificate (the only one I have)–is fraught with obvious inaccuracies.  For starters, I think it would be helpful if adopted persons were provided with a document with a different title, such as, Amended Birth Certificate or Certificate of Adoption.  It’s quite confusing to see the words “Certificate of Live Birth” showing “Mother of Child” as my adoptive mother and “Father of Child” as my adoptive father.  “Informant’s Certification” lists my adoptive mother’s name (typewritten in where there is supposed to be a signature) and dashes (—–) in the blank for “Date Signed By Informant.”

Even weirder, for “Place of Birth,” the “City or Town” is listed as Corona; however, the “County” is listed as “San Bernardino.”  The City of Corona is actually located in Riverside County, not San Bernardino County.  But the Chino Institute for Women is actually located in Chino, in the County of San Bernardino (I’m not sure what hospital facilities were used when I was born).  You’d think if my birth parents wanted to “hide” the fact that I was born in prison by changing the city from Chino to Corona, you’d think they’d figure out that they’d need to change the County to Riverside, as well.  In addition, the “Place of Birth – Name of Hospital” and “Street Address” spots are left completely blank.  Like I just appeared into thin air into the arms of my adoptive parents. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks-who-cares-it-does’t-matter nightmare.  Okay, so it’s not a nightmare–it’s just a fraud.  A fake. It makes me feel like a phony.journey

I’m working on my Petition for Authorization to Inspect Adoption and Birth Record Information, which I will file with the Superior Court.  California law provides that I must show good cause and state the reasons that I need to see my own birth record. It’s up to the judge to decide whether my reasons are compelling enough. If my petition is successful, I will be able to view my original sealed birth certificate.  It will remain sealed–not open to public inspection.  I would also gain access to view my adoption :”file,” which contains all of the information and documentation provided by the Department of Social Services to the Court and the Court documents relating to my adoption.  Some counties have simple petition “forms” to complete and file.  The county that I need to file in does not, so I am drafting it from scratch.  There aren’t many useful “samples” out there, so I am struggling to get it just right.  I’ll post a copy when I’m finished with it. After all, it’s public record.

Wish me luck!